Pittsburgh Pirates: Way Too Early Look at the Trade Deadline

(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) /
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The trade deadline is still over three months away but the Pittsburgh Pirates have many pieces who should get attention from other teams leading up to it

The Pittsburgh Pirates were extremely active when it came to trades this past offseason. They dealt veterans Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon for three prospect packages. In my opinion, Ben Cherington hasn’t made a bad trade since taking over as general manager.

But even after making all those trades there’s still more to be made. With the Pittsburgh Pirates in a rebuilding mode, any veteran still left on the roster is likely to come up in trade rumors. This upcoming trade deadline could be a very active one, so why not give a too early preview?

The first names to go are going to be their rental veterans, more specifically starters Tyler Anderson and Trevor Cahill. The two starters were signed to one-year deals this past offseason and both have had their moments so far in 2021.

The right-handed Cahill has been pretty inconsistent so far. His first and third starts were awful, giving up more than 5 earned runs in 4 innings each. However, in his second start against a strong San Diego Padres lineup, he went 5 innings, allowing just a single earned run while having an 8:2 K:BB ratio.

While Cahill’s bottom line numbers aren’t pretty, he’s only walked 4.9% of all the batters he’s faced while having a strong 27.9% strikeout rate. This has led to a fantastic 5.67 K/BB ratio, 3.17 FIP, 2.63 xFIP, 3.09 SIERA and 3.60 DRA. He’s been hurt by a .462 batting average on balls in play. While BABip needs a larger sample size to get a better reading, it, combined with his great ERA estimators, the veteran right-hander isn’t doing as bad as his bottom line numbers suggest.

The southpaw Anderson has also looked solid through his first three starts with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s yet to give up more than 3 earned runs in any of his starts and struck out 14 of the 67 batters he faced in his first 15.2 innings. He is also coming off a very solid start against a strong Padre lineup. Last Wednesday, Anderson fired 5.1 innings allowing just one run and 4 hits. He only struck out 2 batters but he looked great in his start.

While Anderson doesn’t have as favorable of ERA estimators compared to Cahill, he still has a solid 3.94 xFIP, 4.06 SIERA, has been above average in terms of exit velocity, hard hit rate and is getting batters to swing and miss at his stuff quite often. His only weakness so far has been the long ball with a 1.72 HR/9 rate. However, if he can continue to get swings and misses while getting batters to hit the ball softly when they do make contact, that should go down.

The Pittsburgh Pirates will likely try to deal these two veteran arms first and possibly well before the deadline. With prospects like Miguel Yajure, Cody Bolton and Wil Crowe waiting in the wings, the Pirates should be trying to get their younger starters a better chance of making it to the majors in 2021.

Among the Pirate veterans with control remaining that are the most likely to be dealt, second baseman Adam Frazier and relievers Richard Rodriguez and Chris Stratton are among the Pirates’ most valuable. Rodriguez has looked pretty good through his first few innings this season. Stratton has been a bit more inconsistent, but has seen an increase in his breaking ball RPM and only really got burned in one outing so far.

Like with Anderson and Cahill, the Pittsburgh Pirates might want to deal Rodriguez and Stratton sooner rather than later to get their younger arms more playing time and in higher leverage situations. David Bednar and Luis Oviedo are both rookies with late-inning potential. They also have Nick Mears, their highest ranking relief pitching prospect.

After Rodriguez and Stratton, the Pittsburgh Pirates will likely look to deal Frazier. Frazier is currently hitting .305/.400/.458 with a .375 wOBA and 136 wRC+ through 70 plate appearances. Frazier has always been good at avoiding strikeouts, but he’s currently rocking a strikeout rate below 10% at 7.1%. This always came at the cost of his walk rate, but Frazier has a 11.4% walk rate. From 2016 to 2020, he had a 7.4% walk rate in comparison.

Frazier has also gotten off to a slow start defensively with -4 DRS, but was previously a two-time Gold Glove finalist at second base, ranked among the best in outs above average and is considered a slightly above average defender in the grass.

Frazier is only controlled through the 2022 season, so he likely won’t be around when the Bucs start seeing a majority of their prospects and young players produce at the major league level. Plus the team has a lot of young middle infielders in the organization. There are a lot of teams in need of either an infielder or outfielder. Frazier’s versatility can open up a lot of potential trade opportunities for the team. But if Frazier can continue his hot start, the time to deal him would be around the deadline.

The Pirates definitely will be trying to unload what remains of right-fielder Gregory Polanco’s contract. Polanco is owed at least $13.6 million throughout the entire season. However, he won’t be owed that at the deadline as the Pirates will have already paid off some of his contract as the season goes on. Polanco could potentially grab at least some interest at the deadline if he remains hot. In his last 8 games/32 plate appearances, Polanco has 7 hits, two of which have gone for home runs. He’s also put up a solid 4:9 BB:K ratio. However knowing how inconsistent he can be, both performance and health wise, the Pirates only hope of fully unloading his contract is if he continues this hot streak into summer and isn’t injured.

The Pirates will also likely at least listen to calls on guys like Colin Moran and Jacob Stallings. Both veterans hold a decent bit of value. Moran has slowly progressed his power output and is off to a scorching hot start to the 2021 season. Stallings is showing some great plate discipline to pair with his Gold Glove-caliber defense.

Moran is controlled through 2023 and Stallings has control through 2024. With the control they have left and the fact that they could be potential key pieces of the team’s next competition-ready core, Cherington likely won’t be dealing either unless he gets exactly what he wants, or is offered a sizable overpay. However, while it might take a good amount to pry either from the Bucs, it’s a possibility that can’t be completely ruled out.

The Pirates’ only untouchable players on the 26-man roster are likely only Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes. Hayes hasn’t even exceeded his rookie status yet and Reynolds has control for the next 5 seasons. Both are considered some of the most important pieces of the team’s long term plans.

I trust that Cherington will approach the deadline smartly as this could be yet another big way to help the franchise build for the future. He’s yet to get back anything below his player’s market value has arguably gotten back more than that in some of his trades.

For example, Jarrod Dyson had a sub-10 OPS+, yet the money they were able to get back for him was used toward Po-Yu Chen, a pitcher who currently ranks as the team’s 43rd best prospect by FanGraphs. In the Starling Marte deal, the Bucs were able to get back Liover Peguero, a borderline top 100 prospect and Brennan Malone, a 2019 first round pick and a pitcher with one of the highest ceilings in the system. Plus, he’s righted many of the wrongs the last regime made and has really put this franchise in a much better place with a bright future.

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In the end, the Bucs should have a more active trade deadline than last season. The only move they really made around it was trading Jarrod Dyson to the Chicago White Sox for International Bonus slot money. The veterans the Pirates have this time around hold more value than the likes of Dyson and Derek Holland. Plus both Rich Rod and Frazier have looked a lot better in 2021 than in 2021.

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